For this particular amateur adventure in film I took a look a look at the Jacksonville Jaguars loss to the New England Patriots and specifically looked at what was going on with Jaguars’ offence.
For most of this game the Jaguars held a somewhat surprising lead and there has been some question about the play calling with some suggesting the Jaguars got too conservative. We can’t know what discussions were taking place on the side-line but having gone through the tape I can see how this accusation of being too conservative can be made.
The Jaguars are a self-declared run first team but they do use a mix of 11 personnel as well as two/three tight end groupings to go along with their running backs. One interesting wrinkle the Jaguars used several times was to have two running backs lined up in variations of shotgun with either both running backs stood next to Blake Bortles or to have Corey Grant flexed out as a slot receiver. The Jaguars did use plenty of more traditional two back sets with a fullback but this is not where the real issue seemed to come for the Jaguars in the run game. The single back formation seemed to work fine for running the ball, but when Bortles was in shotgun with just one running back stood next to him the Jaguars seemed to struggle to run the ball effectively and there were two stretches in this game where they predominantly ran on first and second down.
The one that everyone is talking about is in the fourth quarter but this play calling conservatism actually started in the second quarter. During the Jaguars fourth drive they start out with 21 personnel lined up in shotgun and Leonard Fournette ran up the middle for a small loss. The rest of the drive consisted of seven consecutive plays out of a one back shotgun formation that yield another three runs on first or second down, one completed third and long with a really good throw by Bortles, another third down completion by Bortles that was a good throw but was ruled out due to them not getting the play off in time, and a third down sack where Bortles scrambled to bide time and couldn’t convert.
After this drive the Jaguars then proceeded to give up a touchdown to the Patriots offence before demonstrating even more conservatism at the end of the first half when with fifty seconds left on the clock they knelt twice to get to half time. The end of halves are absolutely a time when you can get an edge by taking advantage of a possession to stretch a lead or close a gap, particularly if you are getting the ball at the start of the third quarter, but the Jaguars chose not to take advantage of this.
The third quarter started with a sustained Jaguars’ drive that led to a field goal, their next drive was a quick series and out, before they were able to drive the ball from their own nine yard line to get their final points with a field goal early in the fourth quarter and then the single back shotgun runs started in earnest again.
So if two stretches of conservative play calling with only run plays being called on first and second down played a part in losing the Jaguars the game, what got the offensive moving in the first place? The answer is a balanced offence that used play action on first and second down as well as mixing in drop back throws. The Jaguars used the same action on multiple play where the first play was a play action pass, and then later on they used the same motion but actually handed the ball off to Fournette. Blake Bortles protected the ball for this game and made some nice throws, but there were one or two he simply missed and in the end he couldn’t make the kind of top quality plays the Jaguars needed to get over the top and win this game. That said, if the Jaguars had been a little more adventurous on first and second down at the end of both halves then with just a few more points they could have won this game. There were stretches when they successfully attacked the outside of the Patriots defence with both run and pass, which makes the runs up the middle in the conservative stretches so frustrating as they helped the Patriots defence slowly squeeze the Jaguars so that when at the end of the game, the Jaguars desperately needed Bortles to win the game, he couldn’t do it.
Some will argue that you can’t win with Bortles, and that he is not good enough to justify a nineteen million dollar contract next year. I’m not sure you can’t sign him up for a more reasonable number over a few years and see what you can develop behind him. I think the playoff experience will do Bortles some good but that if the Jaguars want to take another step next season, they need to play better situational football and try to apply pressure with their offence rather than simply limit Bortles mistakes. It’s not like he is suddenly going to turn into Tom Brady or Drew Brees, but in a league that is very short handed for quarterbacks I can see how a more aggressive approach with taking significantly more risks would better complement the Jaguars’ already impressive defence and who knows then what is possible?
I’m going to sneak in one little comment to show both what Bortles is capable of, but also to highlight an interesting wrinkle I saw from the Patriots ahead of their Super Bowl matchup. In the third quarter on third and eight, the Jaguars lined up in shotgun with 11 personnel and number 11 Marquise Lee in the slot. When Lee motions from the right side of the formation to the opposite side, Patriots defensive back Eric Rowe follows him, which often indicates man coverage. The fun thing is that when the ball is snapped, Rowe immediately rushes the passer, but Bortles was able drop back enough to throw the ball to running back TJ Yeldon who had come through the line and they got the first down. It was a good play from Bortles, but I loved the little detail on the coaching film, which is why I do this in the first place.
Roll on the Eagles offence against the Vikings and then the Super Bowl!